Have you ever had this experience happen to you – you are looking at a page that says Pathways on the Toastmasters International website. You click on buttons, see a video, but have no clue how to get a course. Or maybe you are the VP of Education at your club and are not quite sure how to certify people who have completed a path. Hopefully, you were smart enough to register and attend the Toastmasters Leadership Institute (TLI) held at the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Clara on July 14th. For if you had, many of your doubts would have been cleared!

Françoise Muller, District 101 Director (and Immediate Past Program Quality Director), opened the event with a keynote address – her journey into Toastmasters. Pavan Datla, Program Quality Director (Immediate Past Club Growth Director), spoke about how Toastmasters helped him build confidence. In high school, he was diffident, froze when he had to speak. Looking back, he said he was of the same caliber as other friends, but the only difference was he wouldn’t take the initiative to do something new and step out of his comfort zone.  Even in Toastmasters, he didn’t want to be an officer, but he eventually accepted the role reluctantly.  An officer role, he said, actually helps you acquire skills that can be translated into your professional life. If you are the VP of Public Relations for instance, you learn about media relations.  As a VP of Education you learn about time management.

The general theme for most leaders of Toastmasters is how their entry into Toastmasters was serendipitous. All the more commendable that these two leaders have risen to the highest echelons of a Toastmasters District.

TLI always starts early, so one of the treats is a lavish breakfast, this time, provided by the Biltmore Hotel. Fueled by fresh coffee, eggs and hash browns, officers broke off into groups for their respective training sessions. Typically, these are run more like workshops rather than lectures. Attendees break off into groups, brainstorm together and come up with issues that concern them and tips on resolving them. Sometimes there are case studies as well.

As the President of Santa Clara SweetTalkers, I had to attend the President’s training, which was conducted by Immediate Past District Director David Spence.  I learned what the difference is between a mission and a vision for any organization.  If you don’t know what the mission is yet – better memorize this:

The Mission of a Toastmasters club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every individual member has the opportunity to develop oral communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.

I visited a club in Oregon where they read the mission before every meeting – a good practice to incorporate into your meeting. You need a vision as well – where you want to go as a club.  A President, I learned, has to be a good role model. If you want the meeting to start on time, you have to be punctual yourself. Want people to sign up for speeches? Give one yourself! David Spence recommends that all officers have a pocket speech in case speakers don’t show up. Another key skill for a President’s role that is different from other roles is to learn how to delegate.

Others with experience also offered suggestions. A member of our group said that they exerted tight control over the meetings by timing the Toastmaster’s and Table Topics Master’s speaking times to stay on schedule – great idea to follow if one wants to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. Sharing best practices is one of the best ways for us to learn from other clubs. The roles of other officers was discussed as well as the Distinguished club Program – one metric to determine the health of the club.

After the COT (Club Officer Training) we were free to choose any one of the workshops offered.

Educational Session #1

  • From Good to Great: Your Journey Towards a Powerful Speech – Rita Barber, DTM, PDG
  • Take it Outside! What You Wish Your Boss Knew About Toastmasters – Elaine Lung, DTM
  • The Art of Evaluations – Kristian Crump, DTM

Educational Session #2

  • Navigating Through Pathways – Carlos Puig, EC1
  • Membership Building and Retention – Jenny Putney, CC
  • Fearless Conversations – Michael Chojnacki, DTM

Rita Barber conducted a great workshop on constructing a winning speech. Her main theme – “Begin with the end in mind.”  Attendees learned how to come up with a great hook and got some useful nuggets of advice. “You are the hero of the story – not the wise person.” And another one to make sure you stick to the point “Kill your darlings.”

At the Navigating Through Pathways workshop, the trainer, Carlos Puig had to resort to four sources of information to bring clarity to the group –  A detailed handout, the Toastmasters International Website, logging into an account and slides.

He covered the basic steps for a new member and then went on to details for officers like the President or VP of Education, who need to certify completed paths by members.

Information was given on many other resources – tutorials, videos, some of which are available on the District’s website at d101tm.org/pathways

Despite all the information provided, many had the feeling that “homework” to figure out Pathways was going to be challenging.

Hopefully, many Toastmasters were aware that the Toastmasters Leadership Institute is not just for officers. When officers were attending trainings, there was as an educational session for non-officers – Impromptu Speaking – Framework and Techniques by Satish Shenoy, CC, ALB and Declan Shalvey, ACS, CL.

They were also free to attend other educational sessions.

All in all, TLI provides training to go Above and Beyond. If you missed this one, more opportunities may be available in the District or in another one. The question now is: Are you ready?

– Lakshmi Jagannathan